AS Zimbabweans brace themselves for the critical forthcoming general elections, one wonders whether any lessons have been learnt from the bloody and chaotic 2008 polls which President Robert Mugabe stole before declaring himself the winner after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the contest, citing violence and intimidation.
Report by William Muchayi
The next elections are polls which neither of the two main parties can afford to lose given the high political stakes.
Mugabe is now old, frail and tired. At the age of 89, this is most likely his last election, and winning it would guarantee him protection from those who may be dreaming of dragging him to The Hague for human rights abuses.
Moreover, winning would save his face as he cannot afford to be humiliated for the second time by Tsvangirai and leave a tattered legacy of failure and defeat.
As such, Mugabe and his Zanu PF party will use all weapons at their disposal to thwart Tsvangirai and the MDC-T.
It seems Zanu PF and Mugabe have now come to the conclusion that Tsvangirai and his party lack the strategy and political staying power to neutralise violence perpetrated by such groups as Zanu PF militias, war veterans, the army and police.
As a result Mugabe will capitalise on this wicked pillar of strength to win the next elections again.
Tsvangirai on the other hand cannot afford to boycott these crucial elections since by so doing he would have simply fallen into Mugabe’s most reliable trap.
With the post of prime minister scrapped in the new constitution, Tsvangirai cannot risk being jobless by boycotting elections in which he stands a good chance to win. He would also risk losing the party leadership after trying on several occasions to unseat Mugabe without success.
As for Welshman Ncube, Arthur Mutambara, Job Sikhala, Simba Makoni and Dumiso Dabengwa, none of them has any serious chance of making a huge impact in the forthcoming elections, except as power brokers in the event of another coalition arrangement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
One of the three following scenarios is likely to happen after the elections. Firstly, Mugabe gets outright victory over his opponents. However, this is unlikely taking into consideration his continued unpopularity after 33 years in power, marked by repression, economic mismanagement and rampant corruption.
The extent to which he could unleash violence on his opponents and manipulate the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the Registrar General’s office before, during and after the elections will determine whether he wins or loses.
The second scenario is that of an outright MDC-T victory. It is possible for the party to achieve this monumental task depending on the extent to which its supporters resist pressure from Zanu PF to boycott the elections or be cowed into submission.
Tsvangirai can also achieve this if he enters into an alliance with other opposition parties, Ncube’s MDC, Mavambo and Zapu.
This will not be an easy task taking into consideration the time left before the elections as well as the deep- rooted animosities between Tsvangirai and Ncube.
Ncube seems to be comfortable in being a power broker in a coalition government than to see either Tsvangirai or Mugabe being an outright winner. For that reason he will resist any attempt to back either Tsvangirai or Mugabe.
It remains to be seen the extent to which his followers will back this strategic approach which will have a marked impact on the outcome of the elections. If an alliance of opposition parties fails, it will be an uphill task for the MDC-T to have outright victory which leads to the last scenario.
A political stalemate might arise again – perpetuating the problem we have had for over a decade now – after none of the main parties have been able to achieve outright victory, leading to a possible coalition again.
Neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai would want this scenario as it has serious challenges as witnessed during the current arrangement. Mugabe does not want to be humiliated again and to be seen to be weak, while suffering a second defeat from Tsvangirai. That is on the one hand.
On the other hand, Tsvangirai does not cherish a second Government of National Unity (GNU). He was humiliated and rendered powerless in the current one to the extent that most people wonder why he is still in there when he has been reduced to mainly playing a ceremonial role.
The MDC-T has lost considerable support from its power base since when GNU in 2009 and is now being blamed for poor basic services delivery as it is now being painted with the same brush as Zanu PF despite it being powerless to effect any meaningful change. Their dilemma is that they failed to quit the coalition government hoping that they would influence change from within which they have failed to do.
The question now is: what is to be done to minimise Mugabe’s rigging strategy? Has the MDC parties learnt any lessons from the chaotic 2008 elections which Zec rigged in favour of Mugabe in broad daylight? As no meaningful reforms have been implemented since the formation of the GNU, the odds are still stacked in Mugabe’s favour.
However, several strategies can be used by the opposition groups to minimise Mugabe’s rigging.
Firstly, the opposition parties must confront Mugabe as a united front. Ncube, Makoni, Dabengwa and Reketai Semwayo should back Tsvangirai in a grand coalition against Mugabe for the presidency.
In return, Tsvangirai should reach a deal with them in parliamentary elections whereby aspiring MDC-T candidates are not to contest in constituencies where Ncube and Dabengwa would have fielded candidates.
Through this grand alliance, the opposition parties stand a better chance of unseating Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Voter turnout on elections day would have a marked impact on the outcome of the elections.
The higher the turnout, the greater the chances of the opposition parties defeating Mugabe. The opposition groups should embark on a vigorous campaign to reach all corners of the country and neighbouring states encouraging voters to vote.
However, that will not be easy as Mugabe will throw all spanners in the works to neutralise such an offensive.
It is also important election observers at all polling stations make use of modern technologies to the fullest as happened during the Arab spring revolutions.
Let twitter, facebook, whatsapp and many other social media tools be made use of to the fullest to update others on election processes and results from each polling station before boxes are collected to the central counting station where Zec and the Registrar General will be in control.
This is important as I foresee the Kenyan scenario where political parties drag each other before the courts as the results are likely to be disputed again.
In the event election results are stolen in favour of Mugabe, many scenarios are likely to happen. Firstly, Zimbabweans as happened in 2008, will grumble but remain passive, allowing Mugabe to slap them in the face again.
Alternatively, the opposition parties will take the issue to the courts but to no avail as the judiciary is pliable to executive pressure.
Mugabe will definitely be declared the winner but with devastating consequences socially and economically. Appeals to Sadc and the international community for help with yield little success.
Mass protests by the ordinary people over the stolen vote is one other option but it remains to be seen whether Zimbabweans are now prepared to sacrifice their lives for change.
Muchayi is a political analyst who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org